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Constance Alexander: Keeping up with Murray Center for Accessible Living’s Carrissa Johnson isn’t easy

Watch out! Carrissa Johnson, Manager of Murray’s Center for Accessible Living (CAL), is a woman who moves fast. Keeping up with her requires stamina, but every encounter is filled with good information, good humor, and good news.

The Center for Accessible Living is Kentucky’s first independent Living Center with offices in Louisville and Murray, offering services across the state. In Murray, Carrissa Johnson leads the Center aided by a very small staff that offers skills, commitment, networking, and creativity to provide essential support and services to people with disabilities and their caregivers.

A disability resource center, CAL is governed by people with disabilities – like Carrissa Johnson — focused on promoting equal access and equal and independent living status for all people with disabilities.  

Carrissa started as an intern at CAL-Murray in 2005. She was still going to school but wanted to get involved in an organization that champions independent living for people with disabilities. “I like to give back,” is the way she puts it.

The work she and her organization do takes a peer-to-peer approach, helping individuals with disabilities set their own goals, but some of the assistance given can be as seemingly simple as teaching people how to cook, use the computer, or even put on makeup.

“We’re not experts, we just walk with them,” Carrissa says.

A recent and ongoing program is Accessible Murray, the brainchild of Carrissa Johnson. She trains college student volunteers to administer accessibility surveys at local businesses and organizations. The idea is to determine where the facility is currently meeting the needs and mandates of the Americans with disabilities (ADA) Act. The program is a stepping stone to solving accessibility problems by identifying readily achievable goals and cultivating a sense of partnership. Working together, she believes, is the most effective way to move forward.

Participating organizations receive a plaque of recognition to show they are working to improve access. From there, the partnership paves the way to further achievement in accessibility.

Another terrific program where Carrissa’s leadership has been crucial is the construction of an accessible playground in the Murray-Calloway County Park. She admits she might not have thought of the idea at all until she had her son. Then, as a young parent, she began to recognize that a parent with a disability could not swing a child on the swings, or join them at the sliding board or other recreational favorites of active children.

With grant money, and a generous contribution by a local family, all children can play and parents can get to the equipment too. A wheelchair swing and bucket-style swing are now part of the equipment. There are accessible monkey bars too, and some of the picnic tables are designed so a person in a wheelchair can fit comfortably and join the rest of the gang for fun and food.

“We’re looking at accessible basketball hoops and want to develop a trail,” Carrissa says. And as she remembers her own childhood and having to sit on the sidewalk watching her friends play in the park, she is proud of the progress on the path to accessibility so far, and looks forward to more.

Murray’s Center for Accessible Living is located at 1051 N. 16th St., Suite C, Murray, KY. Email calmur@calky.org or visit online at www.calky.org.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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